The attempt to relax…well, I did actually read for pleasure, today…

I’m not sure I’m going to make this post public, so if you’re seeing it, apparently I didn’t get into a bunch of…what I’ve been writing about previously, today (in a paper journal).  Yes yes, I can rant and curse all I want in a paper journal…

I have been having problems concentrating today.  Much of this, earlier, had to do with the fact that I was having so much internal “noise” that I could not focus on my (assigned) reading.  This isn’t literally stuff that I physically heard (i.e. hallucination); this is thinking about things that…had little to do with what I was trying to do, except for the fact that I was doing reading for the grad program and didn’t want to be, but felt I had to.  Then I started thinking about the idiocy that is one of my classes and how my standing in the program may be jeopardized by not sufficiently learning some outmoded obsolete overly complex archaic system from a person with his own issues…which I want to drop, by the way, but I’ve gotten Financial Aid, which kind of makes that a bit more complicated.

Anyway.  I’m trying not to think ahead to Fall.  I also have something to write…for which, I can consider this practice.  That is, it’s difficult for me to jump right in to answering questions in an essay format when I haven’t warmed up.  I suppose one can consider what I did earlier to be a warm-up, as well, but it feels different to write by hand, as versus to type.

In any case, M had me writing earlier to try and clear my head.  It worked to an extent — I did get seven pages out (I used a bold pen, so that’s double-spaced), though it doesn’t solve the problem (which should resolve itself in several weeks).

I also read through the text portion of Shin Hanga, which was a nice break.  The text is only Part I of the book; the second part is made entirely of reproductions of these woodblock prints and their associated metadata (artist, year, accession numbers, etc.).  Shin hanga were like an updated version of ukiyo-e, but not…the only branch to spring from that.  Sosaku hanga (“creative prints”) were another offshoot, with one person controlling the entire artistic process — whereas shin hanga and ukiyo-e more often were the result of team collaborations.

I found a webpage (from MIT) which goes over how woodblock prints were created — well, more than one, actually; I also found an article on bokashi at Wikipedia (that is, how color gradations were made in this form of printing, used extensively in the prints reproduced in the book Shin Hanga) — and it is very clearly…complicated.  Enough so to make one seriously consider digital printmaking.  I mean…really.  The prints had to be highly labor-intensive and exacting.

The possibility of, say, applying a color gradation in an outline…is possible in digital printmaking, and from my experience, I would say it is likely seriously easier than carving a negative of that linework and then applying a gradated ink wash to it and then lining it up and printing it.  On doing a Google search and then following a Pinterest link, I also found a link to the following blog post (by serendipityartist) on WordPress, from 2007.  This makes it seem less…unclear, but still, the author mentions needing to “season” the wood block and getting just the right amount of water mixed in to avoid artifacting…(I don’t know if that’s the right word when used with non-computer-generated art…)

M wanted me to write more, to clear my head further, but I found it essentially very peaceful to just look at the prints and try and analyze how they were working, from the viewpoints of color, line, and composition.  In this sense, the prints are very…sophisticated.  The reason I got the book, Shin Hanga, in the first place was to study composition:  a subject which is different depending on the cultural origin of one’s training.  I had found this first through the book Chinese Painting:  Techniques for Exquisite Watercolors, (excuse me while I shift back to a common form of title capitalization) by Lian Quan Zhen.  There are a couple of sections in that book, if I’m recalling right, about composition…which leads me to wonder if the compositions of some (or many) of the prints in Shin Hanga (the book) were invented or idealized, and not as they appeared in nature.

But that goes off on a fairly different avenue than what I’ve touched upon, tonight.

I think I’m about ready to start my essay, now…

The attempt to relax…well, I did actually read for pleasure, today…

Breaking back into Drawing

I’m thinking about using the blog format to help me be productive with the art stuff.  If other people can see if I’m being productive or not, maybe it will help push me to draw and/or paint.  I decided to draw today because it’s actually easier for me than painting…and I needed to lower the entry barrier.

Today I finally got tired of balking on drawing the little tomatillo I had picked up especially to draw.  I’m like, “what am I afraid of?  What’s the worst that can happen?  I won’t like the drawing?”  So I gave it a go.  This is my first study:

Creative Commons License
tomatillo-1 by paintedstone is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

I think that in reality, the stem was shorter.  (But no one is going to know that unless I tell them, right?)  🙂

There was a lot of squinting to try and read values as I saw them as versus as I drew them.  On the first one, at least, I think I got them pretty close.  Both of these drawings are in Cretacolor Monolith graphite sticks on a Maruman NEW SOHO series, Sketch pad.  I think the size is B5…but I’m not sure.

If you’re wondering about Maruman (I wouldn’t expect this to be a well-known brand in my circles)…I picked up this pad at a Japanese stationery store which is also known for its art supplies.  (It wasn’t cheap, though I must have taken the price tag off of it.)  The same place also sells Kuretake Tambi pan watercolors…but I can get to that, later.

I have yet to use this pad for anything other than what I did, today…but with graphite, the texture comes out really nicely.  Erasing an overworked area by rubbing with a soft putty eraser will kind of kill that, though.  (I may try dabbing instead, next time, to see if I can keep some of the texture and avoid sliding the graphite into the white areas.)  The pad does say that it’s suitable for watercolor, but I have yet to see if this is true.

The only thing I might protest to that came up today, is that in the future I may try and use a shitajiki (pencil board) underneath the drawing I’m making, so as not to dent the pages beneath.  A shitajiki is basically a slightly flexible sheet of plastic which helps protect the rest of the pages in a pad or notebook from becoming indented due to drawing or writing pressure on the top sheet.

I have at least one or two of these — somewhere — from the Japanese bookstore I go to on occasion, but they’re probably collector’s items, now, because of what was printed on them (one had scenes from an early episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion; I can’t remember whether the other one was Sailormoon or CardCaptor SakuraI’m pretty sure it was something that was trying to be cute, though.  😉

I could also mitigate the denting-underlying-pages problem by using a softer stick, rather than pressing more firmly with a harder one.

Creative Commons License
tomatillo-2 by paintedstone is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The above is the second study I did, because the first one came out well and I was planning to walk away:  then I questioned myself as to why.  So I pushed myself to try and do another rendition of this, especially since I’ve had this tomatillo for so long that it’s starting to brown.  😛

When I was starting this out I was like, “aw, man, this looks awful.  Maybe I should stop.”  But I pushed myself to keep going, remembering the lessons I had learned in Figure Drawing, going from basic shapes, to adding detail, to shadow-mapping.  First I had to plot a circular shape, then determine the center mark where the stem comes out and all the veins run to.  I redrew the veining a number of times, though it isn’t totally apparent in the finished drawing.  Erasing was minimal on this second drawing, though I did take out some of my guidelines.

I’m actually rather surprised at this drawing, because I was struggling so much with it at an early stage, and it actually may have come out more aesthetically pleasing than the first one.  The thing that I think may not have translated is the texture of the lantern-like husk on the outside of the tomatillo.  It’s really very angular, and because I was trying to achieve a likeness in form, a lot of the crispness of the husk got edited out.  The crispness does come through in the second piece more than in the first, though.

I also took a bunch of little tomatillo photographs.  🙂  Like the pumpkin in my avatar, this little thing isn’t going to last forever.  Most of the things I’ve drawn and painted will not last, forever; a fact which I’m learning by having my drawing subjects expire (largely fruit and flowers), the weather change; I notice everyone aging, etc.  It seems sometimes like everything is moving toward entropy:  a reason why I have recently questioned whether I actually want to avoid having children.  I know my genes are messed up, but family life is nearly all I’ve known (aside from my short stint in the dorms).

Ah, right:  that Kuretake Tambi stuff I mentioned, earlier.  These are full-pan watercolors which come in a number of differently-sized sets.  They’re fairly expensive, as well.  I’m thinking that they’re meant to be used in Asian watercolor techniques, which is the reason for the full pan (sometimes one lays the length of the brush into the paint, in the methods I know of)…though I only know a little about traditional brush painting, from what I’ve read in the Library.

The reason I even mentioned them is that, about a week ago, I took the little set of Prangs I got to the hospital so that I could sketch while others were seen by specialists.  I was actually fairly disappointed with the handling properties of these and their tendency to muddy when any orange or red tone was used.  I’ve mentioned the weak (i.e. not brilliant) reds in this set before; I guess now I can extend that to oranges; and it is just a pain to put what appears to be a mostly-clean waterbrush into red, and get some weird dull color out of it because the red can’t stand up to anything that isn’t orange or yellow.

After having gone on a little hunt last semester to try and find a workable less-toxic orange, my mind draws a parallel between the orange in the Prang set and Winsor Orange.  Winsor Orange greys down extremely quickly when mixed, although it’s relatively nice when used on its own.  The orange I was attempting to use in the Prangs just muddied quickly.  This could be user error (glazing orange over green or blue), or it could be a pigment issue; as even mixed with green or blue, I would expect a clear neutral, not a weird grey-brown-Idon’tknowwhat.

That said, the Prangs do work, so long as I’m not mixing or glazing or working wet-into-wet, too much, which kind of severely limits my options.  But I am thinking, what do I expect for a $12 scholastic brand.  When not using any advanced techniques, though (as I wasn’t, as a kid), they are useful.

I do have a little Pocket set of Cotman half-pan watercolors…which I can try and use for field work; though as I think I’ve mentioned, after one has used professional-grade paint, the Cotmans really obviously fall short.  There are at least two colors in that line, though, that I may use with an open mind:  these are the Cadmium Hues, because they’re not as toxic as the real thing (and therefore have an upshot compared to the professional cadmium [CP] paints they’re replacing).  I’m not sure if it’s worth it to get into why cadmium salts are bad; I’ve written about it plenty of times, before.

But the Cotman (student) line contains less-expensive, less-toxic, less-highly-pigmented versions of paints which are otherwise available in more-expensive, more-toxic, more-highly-pigmented (professional) versions.  😛  My basic problem is that I may be spoiled on the real thing and hence not want to use the student-grade paints, if I can help it (though I think Grumbacher Academy is a decent line, from what I found in the stash from 2009 — I haven’t tried these fully yet, though, so take that with a grain of salt).

My major issue is trying to find a way to carry watercolors with me which doesn’t have me taking out the giant Mijello Silver Nano 40 palette (as my paints may not adhere to the wells, leaving me with 20 reliable wells), which has many small wells for many colors, an ample amount of mixing space, and which is compact enough to carry with, say, a B5 pad of paper.  I’m really at this point not sure I’m going to find the perfect palette anywhere, unless I spring for the metal palettes filled with half-pan containers, which I’ve seen reviewed, but which I’ve never used.

Then again, maybe all I need to do is break-in the Nano; the surface does change a bit after it has been used to some degree.


Painting is relatively new to me; drawing is an old friend, though; so for me it’s much less intimidating to draw.  Right now, black-and-white is also relatively super easy as an entry point, as that’s what I’ve been doing for most of my drawing career.

Maybe I can try and move into the Progresso woodless colored pencils, and attempt to bridge out from there into Conté and pastel, and then into paint as the desire rebuilds itself.  (I keep doing this long enough, and it will; not even kidding.)

You know, I didn’t even think of it, but I can do some color thumbnail sketches for paintings in those dry media…

Breaking back into Drawing

State Fair treasure trove

Today was actually a really fun day.  We went to the State Fair, and I came away with somewhere around 150 photos.  Most of them, to my untrained eye, I’m fairly pleased with.  Sorting through these, I was looking for photos which I would not mind sharing with the world.  (There are some which would make really nice paintings — or which, in general, are really nice compositions.)

Source for abstracted composition?

I…truly have little idea of what kind of plant this is, but the composition of the original photograph struck me.  I cropped it to a square format, for some reason (probably because I have a 30″x30″ canvas that…might look good with this).  As I was processing it to prepare it for the Web, I actually got a little inspired by this one, too!

I’m thinking of abstracting this so that I have a good value range, and can focus on the play of light and shadow.  Though, I suppose anything except photorealism is abstracted, a bit?

Hmm.  No one has ever really taught me how to work abstractly.  I have a book on it, but I think that probably the best thing to do is just try, and see what comes out.  After all, no one is making me work abstractly; and on top of that, I have no one convenient to teach me what abstraction even is, so maybe I should just set it as a goal to…not become a slave to the photograph.

In any case…I have a lot of photos to look through.  I know that one in particular would look great as a large acrylic or oil painting, and I’m fairly aware of which one of those I would try first!  😉  But because of that, I’m hesitant to post it here before the painting is done.  Although…I do suppose I could watermark it.

It is nice to have the time and finances to do this.  Unless I become a Professor, times like these are probably not going to be all too frequent, once I begin to support myself.

Or unless I do become an Artist…

State Fair treasure trove

Not feeling awesome, but I’m back:

So I’m kind of shyly getting back on the blogging train.  🙂

If this is your first time at this blog site, I’ve been sick and out of commission for (largely) the past week and a half.  Today was the first day in a couple of weeks that I felt capable of getting out of bed and staying active.

I’ve lost something like four pounds from what I think was my fever (I’ve been largely running between 98º F and 100º F, when my normal temperature is below both)…and I’m not sure if I still have that (or if the thermometer is giving an inaccurate reading).  No bacterial infections, thankfully, but I don’t think I was ready for real food, tonight.  Or, maybe I was just so hungry that I swallowed a bunch of air with dinner.

I’m still kind of tired.  The upshot is that I might be able to make it in to school tomorrow to turn in my portfolio for Watercolor, though I’m not sure if I’m still contagious.  I certainly don’t feel like I’m contagious anymore, but the high core temperature might say otherwise.

And, I…would post my sketch from Kinokuniya Plaza…well, I’ll do it anyway:

Quick sketch of Kinokuniya Plaza, San Francisco Japantown

This is actually not a great representation of what it looked like.  The trees were much darker, and the steps below the pagoda showed up much more clearly in the original.  I do have a few reference photos.  I can see a theme running through my quick sketches, though, which is not paying close attention to local value.

Local value is a measure of the darkness or lightness one would see if one squinted their eyes at what they were looking at.  I’ve finally figured out how this works, which is by cutting down the amount of light entering the eye to the extent that color vision is no longer employed.  Night vision is in wider shades of black and grey than daytime/color vision, and the former is the type of vision used when one squints.

I got the shadows on the trees alright, there; but the trees themselves were somewhere nearly as dark as that one tier of the pagoda.  Ideally, the trees would be at least that dark, and then the shadows would be darker.  The problem with just darkening the trees is that it then throws off all the value relationships of the rest of the drawing, so I end up having to rework everything.

I had this issue in one of my Expressive Portrait assignments, as well:  I filled in shadows first, then added in local value and had to go back and deepen all the shadows.  I’m not entirely certain how or whether to work the other way around, though:  add local value (or color) and then deepen it for shadows?

I can only really get so dark with graphite, as well.  Carbon pencil would have helped, but all I took was a set of graphite sticks, sharpener, and eraser (I was trying to pack light).


I probably wouldn’t have posted that one, but I was fairly proud of it earlier, before I saw the local-value thing (which, in turn, I only saw after photographing it and comparing the reference photo I’d taken at the time and the photo of the drawing)…and one of my family members has told me that with art, no matter how much one develops, there are always things to improve upon or change (which helped).

I kind of don’t want to get like Clyfford Still and avoid showing anyone the bulk of my body of work — he was fairly well-known for being super private.  I’m not sure that the benefits of an approach like that, outweigh the costs (the costs being, largely, my validation of my own judgment of my work, when I’m probably my own harshest critic).

I wonder how this could have turned out in watercolor, though:  like, if I had color to differentiate the steps of the plaza from the steps of the pagoda and the roof of the pagoda from the trees?  Hmm.  Might have to try that, sometime…

Not feeling awesome, but I’m back:

Partial review of Prang watercolor 16-pan set, for Jill

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking, and have decided that it is at least OK to post preparatory sketches, here.  I know that Jill had been asking about getting set up with watercolors, though I think that has happened already, to a large extent.

When asked, though, I immediately thought of the Prang semi-moist pan paints as the only pans I’ve used worth noting.  They’re inexpensive (kind of stupid inexpensive), considered scholastic grade, non-toxic (to the best of my knowledge), but high enough quality that I think some professionals use them just to play around with (as I don’t know any data on permanence or lightfastness).

I haven’t tried mixing them, yet — and I know for a fact that their red is dull, in comparison to the rest of the colors (and even in comparison to Cotman pan reds).  I’m not sure how much Photoshop is altering these, either:  all of these photos were taken with poor lighting which was compensated for with Auto Levels.  I do still have the paintings, though.  If you’d rather see an unaltered image, I can try for that.

However, I thought I might post something that I sketched out at the UC Berkeley Arboretum, last semester.

arboretum sketches 003 cc auto levels thumb
No, I don’t remember the exact location of this sketch.

This was done with the set of Prangs I got from Michael’s, because I was that desperate.  😉  Michael’s is actually more expensive than Blick for many art supplies, most of the time (unless you have a coupon, and even then, Blick is often cheaper).  This was made with the Oval 16-color set.

You can see that I didn’t mix colors, here, except where the colors changed as I worked wet-into-wet.  I was kind of irritated at myself afterwards for working so quickly that my colors ran, but now I look at this and go, “Huh.  That’s interesting.”

I was using three tools, here:  one was a graphite pencil which didn’t make an underdrawing strong enough for me to know what was going on under the color.  (I am not greatly fond of this — I was going quick, loose, and messy [I was trying to break out of being detailed and tight], so a lot of what I was trying to get across with the drawings were obliterated, in a number of the sketches I made that day.)

The second tool I was using was, of course, the Prangs.  I’m pretty sure that the above drawing was made with these, and not with the Cotman set I brought on one or another of these trips.  The key is that red-violet:  it’s not a color in the Cotman Pocket (12-pan) set, and I wouldn’t be led to mix that on my own for this composition.  I highly doubt that I was using two different sets of pans at the same time.

As a note, I find it much, much easier now to use a large flat palette with empty, slanted wells which can be filled and refilled, and large mixing areas.  If you would like, I can show you the palette I’m using for Watercolor class (I have all three oranges I’ve tried in there, now).  I don’t have a metal palette for watercolors yet, though I have thought of taking that Cotman Pocket set and dumping out all the colors (they’re loose in the pans), then refilling the pans with my own professional-grade paints.  (The Cotmans — student-grade Winsor & Newton paints — are just…not as much of a joy to use as the professional-grade Winsor & Newton paints.  The latter are stronger and more intense.  The only drawback is toxicity.  I’m sure I’ll branch out further to other brands, eventually.)

arboretum sketches 013 cc levels thumb
A thumbnail made with Neocolor II crayons.

I had been using a Neocolor II 10-crayon set at a different time, but was not entirely fond of the granular effect I was getting (see right):  the Neocolors take a bit of scrubbing to fully liquefy, when they’re applied thickly and over rough watercolor paper.  The Prangs are much smoother and more luminous, even though they’re less convenient.

An image of the full-page (well, nearly-full-page) painting I made of the same view, with the Prangs, is below; I believe that this might have been the second trip I had taken out there.

Larger version of the above thumbnail, made in Prang watercolors.

Because of that fact, I’m pretty sure that the graphite here is at least one Cretacolor Monolith Woodless Graphite stick  (they come in different hardnesses between HB and 9B) — and probably a softer lead than HB; not a wood-cased pencil.  The only drawback to these, besides the fact that they can break if you drop them and need to be protected in transport (I have a set in a metal tin which works well), is the rather frequent tiny hard bit that gets embedded into the lead, and can scratch or indent your page.  (I just live with it, though; they’re still much bolder and more expressive than regular graphite pencils; and as I’m aiming to use liquid media, the indentation isn’t as big a deal as it would be with, say, colored pencils.)  I remember what I used in the last image was probably a Monolith, as I had noted that I could actually see what was represented even after painting — and even after photographing! — and had attributed the fact to that.

The third tool I used with both the Neocolors and the Prangs (I had to go here twice, each semester I took this course) was a waterbrush.  This is a brush which can be pre-loaded with water, which then dispenses when the handle is squeezed.  Although this leads to a frequent need to wipe the tip off on something (like a rag or paper towel or sponge — I have the bad habit of just wiping it off on the white space of my paper), it does make things a lot more convenient when sketching in the field.  A tiny cup (like a sake cup:  so that you don’t have a chance of contaminating the water you may be drinking) and bottle of water, is handy to reload this, too.

From what I can see, it seems like the type of waterbrush one uses depends on what store is stocking what, in which area.  A lot of people I follow on WordPress use Pentel waterbrushes.  The one I used was a Niji waterbrush, which at least looks like what is in use by students in the seventh photo in this post at  (I haven’t asked, though:  they may just look the same.)  I’m pretty sure I was using a Medium (or Large) nib.

It’s fairly clean; I haven’t had a problem with water leaking out of it, yet, and it can be stored in an organizer pocket meant for a pen or pencil.  If it’s upright, that’s added insurance against it leaking, unless it’s overfilled and gets squashed.  I just wish they would have put a real clip on the cap so that it won’t fly out of a pocket.  It also kind of takes forever for those last droplets of water to evaporate from the inside of the handle; maybe not an issue if you’re using it a lot.

The waterbrush eliminates the need to carry around a pot of water with your paints.  It’s extremely useful that way, and can probably eliminate the problem of dumping out chemical-laden water into delicate ecosystems.  Even if it’s not toxic to us, it may be toxic to something else.  The botanical garden I went to has either newts, and/or salamanders (I can’t tell from the way they look, what they are; I never took a macrobiology course)…hearsay is that newts don’t live well with environmental toxins.

Ah, now.  Now that I’ve written all of that, I feel a bit better!  I should note that I’m not getting any compensation from any of the companies I’ve mentioned, so this isn’t meant to be an advertisement for them (although I guess I would consider it a review).  I just think the Prangs are great to start out with — when I was a kid, I used up a bunch of these paints.  They’re nice for adults, too, especially for quick sketching, with two caveats:

First, I’m not sure how they would work with heavy color mixing (as I know that different pigments have different mixing properties, and I don’t know what pigments [or dyes] are in these).  The second caveat is that I don’t know how resistant to fading or shifting any of these colors are, as — again, I don’t know what pigments (or dyes) are in these.  I know that they’re meant for use by schoolchildren (who are old enough not to eat them), but have a smoothness, luminescence, ease of wetting, and — generally (not counting Red) — intensity of pigment which, compared with the apparently super-low price point, is satisfying enough for me to recommend them.

Partial review of Prang watercolor 16-pan set, for Jill